NRL: New owners of Melbourne Storm headed by Kiwi

Billy Slater. Photo / Getty Images
Billy Slater. Photo / Getty Images

Melbourne Storm's new owners - led by a New Zealand businessman - plan to make the NRL club break even financially by 2017 and also want to dramatically boost membership.

New Zealand entrepreneur Bart Campbell heads a group of businessmen who bought the reigning premiers from News Ltd on Monday night.

The other members of the consortium, Holding MS Australia, are expected to be announced at a Melbourne function within a fortnight.

It's the start of a new era for the Storm, who have only ever been owned by News Ltd since entering the premiership in 1998 and the sale means the Brisbane Broncos are now the sole remaining NRL asset of the company which once ran the competition.

New chief executive Mark Evans would not confirm a report that influential local businessmen Gerry Ryan and Matthew Tripp were in the ownership group, saying "that's speculation, basically''.

But Evans admitted the makeup of the consortium was "Australasian'', with Melbourne businessmen involved.

Asked how long he thought it would take for the club to break even financially, Evans said: "I'd like to think within four to five years''.

Evans added the club would remain privately owned "for the foreseeable future'', but said the terms of the deal with News Ltd were confidential.

Outgoing chief executive Ron Gauci said the club's membership was "just shy'' of 15,000 and the next aim for the Storm was to boost it to 20,000.

Gauci and Evans would not speculate on how long it would take for that to happen.

"I'd like to think we could hit 20 (thousand) before too much longer ... we're on track to achieve that,'' Gauci said.

But Evans plans to leave the playing side of the club alone as much as possible, given the Storm's on-field strength.

"It will be hard to imagine how you can make fundamental changes to the playing side of the business,'' he said.

Evans also spoke carefully when asked if the consortium would have reconsidered buying the club had coach Craig Bellamy not re-signed earlier this year.

"We were very pleased when Craig re-signed,'' he said.

Another big priority for the Storm will be re-signing Australian captain Cameron Smith.

"I will leave that up to the playing department, but I would guess it's a fairly high priority for them,'' Evans said.

"We have some pretty able people in the playing department who have a track record of making sound judgments and decisions in terms of recruitment and retention.''

The sale comes only two years and 10 months after Gauci took over as chief executive in the immediate aftermath of the club's salary cap scandal which saw it stripped of the 2007 and 2009 premiership titles.

"Today the club is in its best position in its history,'' Gauci said.

"The rebuilding of the club has been remarkable.

"It's able to stand on its own two feet.''

Gauci said he was not surprised the club had recovered so quickly.

"What was the biggest story in 2010 from a negative perspective became the biggest story in sport from a positive perspective,'' he said.

"To be here today, knowing full well we've achieved well (ahead) of schedule this landmark day, of course I take a lot of pride in that.

"When you have the right ingredients around you ... you shouldn't be surprised with the success that comes your way.''

- AAP

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